ETH Zurich and armasuisse Science and Technology (S+T) – the centre of technology at the Swiss Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS) – are already working closely together on various projects. These include the four-legged ANYmal robot, which in the future could be used for search and rescue operations in disaster areas. Then there is a driverless walking digger for dangerous clearance work and drones for detecting radioactive material. The two partners are now expanding their collaboration through a joint security robotics programme. armasuisse will be investing half a million Swiss francs a year for at least the next five years. The money will go towards selected robotics projects that the Swiss rescue and security forces could potentially use in unarmed missions; research into weapons systems is explicitly prohibited.
Assessing technological developments and their consequences
While new technologies such as drones can help the government carry out security operations, they also pose a potential threat to public safety – for example, when a drone flies over the site of an event. So it’s critical that armasuisse be able to assess new technological trends and their consequences as early as possible. 'In addition to expanding our robotics knowledge, the collaboration with ETH Zurich helps us to anticipate future technological developments in areas that are relevant to our activities,' says Thomas Rothacher, Head of armasuisse S+T. In turn ETH Zurich benefits financially, and – more importantly – from the knowledge armasuisse brings to the table: 'Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Interaction with security and rescue teams, whose members share their experiences, helps us as researchers to develop new ideas and potential solutions. Ultimately, the aim of the collaboration between armasuisse and ETH Zurich is to strengthen Switzerland’s security,' says Detlef Günther, Vice President for Research at ETH Zurich.
In addition to knowledge, the researchers also benefit from access to the Swiss Armed Forces’ infrastructure. Testing grounds with bombed-out buildings as well as facilities for simulating large fires and floods allow researchers to test promising prototypes in realistic disaster environments with a view to further improving them.